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Cablegate: Presidential Election - Mesic in First Round?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS ZAGREB 002210

SIPDIS


DEPT FOR EUR/SCE - KABUMOTO, BENEDICT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL HR
SUBJECT: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - MESIC IN FIRST ROUND?

REF: A. ZAGREB 02002
B. ZAGREB 01601
C. ZAGREB 01571

1. SUMMARY AND COMMENT: President Stjepan Mesic appears
poised to win a second five-year mandate in the upcoming
presidential election; the only question that remains is
whether he will get the necessary 50 percent one vote in
the first round on January 2 or face a second round against
his nearest rival on January 16. While Mesic and Jadranka
Kosor of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) are the
only ones with a hope of making a second round, 11 other
contenders signed on for the short, holiday-season campaign,
more candidates than in any presidential election since
Croatian independence.

2. While none of the other 11 is likely to break even five
percent at the polls, they have come out of the woodwork for
a variety of reasons. The most colorful characters of the
race (a soccer coach who led Croatia to third place in the
1998 World Cup, a former army general turned shady
entrepreneur turned extremist politician, and a "local boy
does good" millionaire back from Minnesota) seem bent on
self-promotion. Others are using the election campaign to
voice right-wing beliefs from which they feel the HDZ
government has strayed. The rest are in the business of
party building - increasing name recognition and mobilizing
activists for local elections expected in April or May 2005.

3. With results so predictable (Mesic is consistently polling
around 50 percent, while Kosor is lucky to draw 20 percent
with only 15 percent left undecided), the election's real
value may in the end be to show PM Ivo Sanader just how small
the extreme right of Croatian politics is, encouraging him to
continue, and perhaps even step up, reforms on the path to
Euro-Atlantic integration. END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

WISECRACKS AND WISDOM ) MESIC AS THE CITIZEN PRESIDENT
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. At age 71, Mesic remains the nation's most popular
politician, a classic populist who often serves as the moral
compass of the nation. Throughout his five years in office,
he has cultivated his image as the genial and witty "citizen
president," in sharp contrast to the oft bad-tempered style
of his predecessor, Franjo Tudjman. Known in U.S. circles as
a leading opponent to Article 98 and troops to Iraq, Mesic
has actually played an extremely positive role in Croatian
politics since the 1960s.

5. Mesic was imprisoned for a year for his role in the
"Croatian Spring" of 1971, a movement against Belgrade's
domination of Yugoslavia. Mesic later served briefly as the
last president of Yugoslavia and even more briefly as
Croatia's first prime minister. He returned to parliament as
speaker in early 90s, but then left in protest against the
HDZ's policy promoting the division of Bosnia. Mesic became
one of Tudjman's most outspoken critics, and as president he
can claim at least some credit for leading Croatia out of the
international isolation brought on by Tudjman's regime. He
also spearheaded efforts to amend Croatia's constitution,
greatly reducing the presidential powers of Tudjman's day and
transforming the country into a parliamentary democracy. He
has focused on his experience during the campaign, asking
voters to let him continue to improve the nation.

CROATIA'S SOCIAL CHAMPION: KOSOR ON THE SOFT ISSUES
--------------------------------------------- ------

6. Kosor, currently deputy prime minister and minister of
family, veterans, affairs, and intergenerational solidarity,
was selected as the HDZ candidate only weeks before the
campaign began and faces a steep uphill battle against Mesic.
Simply forcing a second round would be a huge success. The
HDZ, however, has opened its checkbook and activated its
political machine, making Kosor by far the most promoted
candidate in the campaign.

7. Kosor's radio programs for refugees and other victims
during the war years in the mid-1990s first endeared her to
the Croatian public. She then became a parliamentarian and
later deputy chair of the HDZ. Kosor thrives on social
issues and has focused her campaign on improving living
conditions for disadvantaged groups. She has stepped ahead
of the HDZ on a few issues, perhaps to show herself as more
than Sanader's puppet, taking an absolutist stance against
sending troops to Iraq, calling the indictment against
Gotovina flawed, and flatly opposing the controversial
Druzba-Adria oil pipeline from Russia to the Croatia coast.
However, her Mother Theresa image, as Mesic calls it,
continues to define her. In classic Mesic style, he has
lately taken to calling his opponent "Lady Suzanna," after
she wept at campaign event ("suza" is Croatian for tear).

SHOUTS FROM THE FRINGES
-----------------------

8. The marginal voices in the campaign have tended toward the
extreme, with several candidates claiming that ICTY fugitive
Ante Gotovina should not surrender to The Hague, and others
focusing on reasons why Croatia does not need the EU.
Fortunately, all of the far right candidates combined will be
unlikely to break 10 percent on January 2.

9. The GoC has opened 155 polling places in 50 countries for
the Croatian diaspora and Croatians in BiH and SaM, who enjoy
the rights of citizenship without ever stepping foot in
Croatia. This will likely give a needed boost to Kosor, as
the HDZ dominates in communities outside the country, and is
probably her only hope in forcing a second round.
FRANK


NNNN

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